My Life by
Now we used to see each other often, sometimes twice a day. She
used to come to the cemetery almost every day after dinner, and
read the epitaphs on the crosses and tombstones while she waited
for me. Sometimes she would come into the church, and, standing
by me, would look on while I worked. The stillness, the na?e
work of the painters and gilders, Radish's sage reflections, and
the fact that I did not differ externally from the other
workmen, and worked just as they did in my waistcoat with no
socks on, and that I was addressed familiarly by them -- all
this was new to her and touched her. One day a workman, who was
painting a dove on the ceiling, called out to me in her
"Misail, hand me up the white paint."
I took him the white paint, and afterwards, when I let myself
down by the frail scaffolding, she looked at me, touched to
tears and smiling.
"What a dear you are!" she said.
I remembered from my childhood how a green parrot, belonging to
one of the rich men of the town, had escaped from its cage, and
how for quite a month afterwards the beautiful bird had haunted
the town, flying from garden to garden, homeless and solitary.
Mariya Viktorovna reminded me of that bird.
"There is positively nowhere for me to go now but the cemetery,"
she said to me with a laugh. "The town has become disgustingly
dull. At the Azhogins' they are still reciting, singing,
lisping. I have grown to detest them of late; your sister is an
unsociable creature; Mademoiselle Blagovo hates me for some
reason. I don't care for the theatre. Tell me where am I to go?"
When I went to see her I smelt of paint and turpentine, and my
hands were stained -- and she liked that; she wanted me to come
to her in my ordinary working clothes; but in her drawing-room
those clothes made me feel awkward. I felt embarrassed, as
though I were in uniform, so I always put on my new serge
trousers when I went to her. And she did not like that.
"You must own you are not quite at home in your new character,"
she said to me one day. "Your workman's dress does not feel
natural to you; you are awkward in it. Tell me, isn't that
because you haven't a firm conviction, and are not satisfied?
The very kind of work you have chosen -- your painting -- surely
it does not satisfy you, does it?" she asked, laughing. "I know
paint makes things look nicer and last longer, but those things
belong to rich people who live in towns, and after all they are
luxuries. Besides, you have often said yourself that everybody
ought to get his bread by the work of his own hands, yet you get
money and not bread. Why shouldn't you keep to the literal sense
of your words? You ought to be getting bread, that is, you ought
to be ploughing, sowing, reaping, threshing, or doing something
which has a direct connection with agriculture, for instance,
looking after cows, digging, building huts of logs. . . ."
She opened a pretty cupboard that stood near her writing-table,
"I am saying all this to you because I want to let you into my
secret. Voil? This is my agricultural library. Here I have
fields, kitchen garden and orchard, and cattleyard and beehives.
I read them greedily, and have already learnt all the theory to
the tiniest detail. My dream, my darling wish, is to go to our
Dubetchnya as soon as March is here. It's marvellous there,
exquisite, isn't it? The first year I shall have a look round
and get into things, and the year after I shall begin to work
properly myself, putting my back into it as they say. My father
has promised to give me Dubetchnya and I shall do exactly what I
like with it."
Flushed, excited to tears, and laughing, she dreamed aloud how
she would live at Dubetchnya, and what an interesting life it
would be! I envied her. March was near, the days were growing
longer and longer, and on bright sunny days water dripped from
the roofs at midday, and there was a fragrance of spring; I,
too, longed for the country.
And when she said that she should move to Dubetchnya, I realized
vividly that I should remain in the town alone, and I felt that
I envied her with her cupboard of books and her agriculture. I
knew nothing of work on the land, and did not like it, and I
should have liked to have told her that work on the land was
slavish toil, but I remembered that something similar had been
said more than once by my father, and I held my tongue.
Lent began. Viktor Ivanitch, whose existence I had begun to
forget, arrived from Petersburg. He arrived unexpectedly,
without even a telegram to say he was coming. When I went in, as
usual in the evening, he was walking about the drawing-room,
telling some story with his face freshly washed and shaven,
looking ten years younger: his daughter was kneeling on the
floor, taking out of his trunks boxes, bottles, and books, and
handing them to Pavel the footman. I involuntarily drew back a
step when I saw the engineer, but he held out both hands to me
and said, smiling, showing his strong white teeth that looked
like a sledge-driver's:
"Here he is, here he is! Very glad to see you, Mr.
House-painter! Masha has told me all about it; she has been
singing your praises. I quite understand and approve," he went
on, taking my arm. "To be a good workman is ever so much more
honest and more sensible than wasting government paper and
wearing a cockade on your head. I myself worked in Belgium with
these very hands and then spent two years as a mechanic. . . ."
He was wearing a short reefer jacket and indoor slippers; he
walked like a man with the gout, rolling slightly from side to
side and rubbing his hands. Humming something he softly purred
and hugged himself with satisfaction at being at home again at
last, and able to have his beloved shower bath.
"There is no disputing," he said to me at supper, "there is no
disputing; you are all nice and charming people, but for some
reason, as soon as you take to manual labour, or go in for
saving the peasants, in the long run it all comes to no more
than being a dissenter. Aren't you a dissenter? Here you don't
take vodka. What's the meaning of that if it is not being a
To satisfy him I drank some vodka and I drank some wine, too. We
tasted the cheese, the sausage, the p??, the pickles, and the
savouries of all sorts that the engineer had brought with him,
and the wine that had come in his absence from abroad. The wine
was first-rate. For some reason the engineer got wine and cigars
from abroad without paying duty; the caviare and the dried
sturgeon someone sent him for nothing; he did not pay rent for
his flat as the owner of the house provided the kerosene for the
line; and altogether he and his daughter produced on me the
impression that all the best in the world was at their service,
and provided for them for nothing.
I went on going to see them, but not with the same eagerness.
The engineer made me feel constrained, and in his presence I did
not feel free. I could not face his clear, guileless eyes, his
reflections wearied and sickened me; I was sickened, too, by the
memory that so lately I had been in the employment of this
red-faced, well-fed man, and that he had been brutally rude to
me. It is true that he put his arm round my waist, slapped me on
the shoulder in a friendly way, approved my manner of life, but
I felt that, as before, he despised my insignificance, and only
put up with me to please his daughter, and I couldn't now laugh
and talk as I liked, and I behaved unsociably and kept expecting
that in another minute he would address me as Panteley as he did
his footman Pavel. How my pride as a provincial and a working
man was revolted. I, a proletarian, a house painter, went every
day to rich people who were alien to me, and whom the whole town
regarded as though they were foreigners, and every day I drank
costly wines with them and ate unusual dainties -- my conscience
refused to be reconciled to it! On my way to the house I
sullenly avoided meeting people, and looked at them from under
my brows as though I really were a dissenter, and when I was
going home from the engineer's I was ashamed of my well-fed
Above all I was afraid of being carried away. Whether I was
walking along the street, or working, or talking to the other
fellows, I was all the time thinking of one thing only, of going
in the evening to see Mariya Viktorovna and was picturing her
voice, her laugh, her movements. When I was getting ready to go
to her I always spent a long time before my nurse's warped
looking-glass, as I fastened my tie; my serge trousers were
detestable in my eyes, and I suffered torments, and at the same
time despised myself for being so trivial. When she called to me
out of the other room that she was not dressed and asked me to
wait, I listened to her dressing; it agitated me, I felt as
though the ground were giving way under my feet. And when I saw
a woman's figure in the street, even at a distance, I invariably
compared it. It seemed to me that all our girls and women were
vulgar, that they were absurdly dressed, and did not know how to
hold themselves; and these comparisons aroused a feeling of
pride in me: Mariya Viktorovna was the best of them all! And I
dreamed of her and myself at night.
One evening at supper with the engineer we ate a whole lobster
As I was going home afterwards I remembered that the engineer
twice called me "My dear fellow" at supper, and I reflected that
they treated me very kindly in that house, as they might an
unfortunate big dog who had been kicked out by its owners, that
they were amusing themselves with me, and that when they were
tired of me they would turn me out like a dog. I felt ashamed
and wounded, wounded to the point of tears as though I had been
insulted, and looking up at the sky I took a vow to put an end
to all this.
The next day I did not go to the Dolzhikov's. Late in the
evening, when it was quite dark and raining, I walked along
Great Dvoryansky Street, looking up at the windows. Everyone was
asleep at the Azhogins', and the only light was in one of the
furthest windows. It was Madame Azhogin in her own room, sewing
by the light of three candles, imagining that she was combating
superstition. Our house was in darkness, but at the Dolzhikovs',
on the contrary, the windows were lighted up, but one could
distinguish nothing through the flowers and the curtains. I kept
walking up and down the street; the cold March rain drenched me
through. I heard my father come home from the club; he stood
knocking at the gate. A minute later a light appeared at the
window, and I saw my sister, who was hastening down with a lamp,
while with the other hand she was twisting her thick hair
together as she went. Then my father walked about the
drawing-room, talking and rubbing his hands, while my sister sat
in a low chair, thinking and not listening to what he said.
But then they went away; the light went out. . . . I glanced
round at the engineer's, and there, too, all was darkness now.
In the dark and the rain I felt hopelessly alone, abandoned to
the whims of destiny; I felt that all my doings, my desires, and
everything I had thought and said till then were trivial in
comparison with my loneliness, in comparison with my present
suffering, and the suffering that lay before me in the future.
Alas, the thoughts and doings of living creatures are not nearly
so significant as their sufferings! And without clearly
realizing what I was doing, I pulled at the bell of the
Dolzhikovs' gate, broke it, and ran along the street like some
naughty boy, with a feeling of terror in my heart, expecting
every moment that they would come out and recognize me. When I
stopped at the end of the street to take breath I could hear
nothing but the sound of the rain, and somewhere in the distance
a watchman striking on a sheet of iron.
For a whole week I did not go to the Dolzhikovs'. My serge
trousers were sold. There was nothing doing in the painting
trade. I knew the pangs of hunger again, and earned from
twopence to fourpence a day, where I could, by heavy and
unpleasant work. Struggling up to my knees in the cold mud,
straining my chest, I tried to stifle my memories, and, as it
were, to punish myself for the cheeses and preserves with which
I had been regaled at the engineer's. But all the same, as soon
as I lay in bed, wet and hungry, my sinful imagination
immediately began to paint exquisite, seductive pictures, and
with amazement I acknowledged to myself that I was in love,
passionately in love, and I fell into a sound, heavy sleep,
feeling that hard labour only made my body stronger and younger.
One evening snow began falling most inappropriately, and the
wind blew from the north as though winter had come back again.
When I returned from work that evening I found Mariya Viktorovna
in my room. She was sitting in her fur coat, and had both hands
in her muff.
"Why don't you come to see me?" she asked, raising her clear,
clever eyes, and I was utterly confused with delight and stood
stiffly upright before her, as I used to stand facing my father
when he was going to beat me; she looked into my face and I
could see from her eyes that she understood why I was confused.
"Why don't you come to see me?" she repeated. "If you don't want
to come, you see, I have come to you."
She got up and came close to me.
"Don't desert me," she said, and her eyes filled with tears. "I
am alone, utterly alone."
She began crying; and, hiding her face in her muff, articulated:
"Alone! My life is hard, very hard, and in all the world I have
no one but you. Don't desert me!"
Looking for a handkerchief to wipe her tears she smiled; we were
silent for some time, then I put my arms round her and kissed
her, scratching my cheek till it bled with her hatpin as I did
And we began talking to each other as though we had been on the
closest terms for ages and ages.